The Daily Telegraph
Kew Gardens could hold the secret for a malaria cure
SCIENTISTS from Kew Gardens have found hundreds of plant species that could hold the key to improvements in the treatment of malaria.
They made the breakthrough after studying plants used by indigenous communities in Latin America to treat the disease, which kills hundreds of thousands of people a year.
After analysing data held on thousands of specimens, they found more than 1,000 species had been used to treat malaria, with some widely used by communities in the Amazon rainforest.
Some have been tested against the plasmodium parasite which causes malaria in humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes, but many others have not.
Work done at Kew could help develop treatments for malaria, which in 2019 alone killed 400,000 people.
The study was led by Dr William Milliken, who said: “This could assist the development of healthcare strategies in the poorest countries in the world. However, this approach relies on continued access to traditional knowledge of how plants are used as medicines.”
The study warned that growing industrialisation, deforestation and urbanisation could threaten the knowledge of antimalarial treatment gathered over the centuries.
“This vital information has been passed down through many generations, mostly by word of mouth, but is now disappearing rapidly as lifestyles change,” the report added.
“There is a growing need to document this traditional knowledge and support communities to maintain it, so that this invaluable know-how, developed and refined over centuries, is available to future generations.”
The research comes as it was announced that Kew Gardens has been officially recognised as home to the largest living plant collection on Earth.
The accolade is being added to the 2022 edition of the Guinness Word Records annual, in recognition of the 16,900 species of plants from all over the world held at Kew’s 320-acre site in west London.
The new world record is the most significant of several held by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, a Unesco World Heritage site. They include the record for the world’s largest water lily species, which measures almost 10ft in diameter; the smelliest plant, the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), whose stench – akin to rotting flesh – can be detected up to 800 yards away; and the oldest surviving plant in the world, a prickly cycad (Encephalartos altensteinii) brought from South Africa to the United Kingdom in 1775 and dubbed a “living fossil”.
Kew is also home to the world’s smallest water lily species, which was at one point thought to be extinct.